Benefits of Volunteering You Might
Not Have Considered
Getting involved in volunteer work has benefits that can last a lifetime — not only for those who you are helping, but for you as well.
If you are on the fence about diving into a new volunteer experience or have doubts about whether or not volunteering is right for you, you might find yourself surprised at just how much you can gain from taking the plunge.
Why Volunteer? Here’s Why Volunteering is Important
Volunteering is important for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, volunteering is about helping others. We all contribute to the construction of the world we live in—don’t you want your contribution to be one that makes that world better? It makes for a better world for all of us when we work towards equity and equality for everyone.
Beyond the good deeds that can be done by volunteering, becoming a volunteer can be valuable for your personal growth and well-being. I might not have thought much of my responsibility showing tourists sea turtles and stingrays in my childhood volunteer experience, but I was learning the art of public speaking—a skill I use to this day. The more opportunities you take to learn new skills and gain knowledge, the more fully you will develop as a person. And what safer space to develop those skills than in a context of service?
Good Reasons to Volunteer
Donating your time, energy, and possibly resources should be rewarding for you and for those you are helping. Here are some ways volunteering can affect you positively:
#1: Volunteering Feels Good
Think about it for a moment: you could spend your Saturday morning watching TV on the couch or you could help local school children plant a garden so they have fresh vegetables and fruits to eat throughout the school year. No-brainer. And I promise—your show will still be there for you to stream later once you are done getting out in the world to make a difference.
#2: Volunteering Can be Good for Your Career
When you have a volunteer experience to add to your resume, you stand out over job candidates who don’t take the time to give back to society. Volunteering gives you a chance to show that you’re interested in things bigger than yourself, and you are willing to take action to make the changes you want in the world—and that will always help you shine through the competition.
#3: New Experiences, Especially Those Centered Around Community, are Good for Your Mind, Body, and Soul
Volunteering not only gets you out of your comfort zone, but it will also enrich your life and give you a broader purpose. Throughout your life you’ve developed social and professional skills that promote your personal achievement. But using those skills for a wider, communal impact can be even more fulfilling. It creates an avenue of connection for you within your community!
Spending time as a volunteer has been shown to improve your self-esteem and well-being. It’s also a known mechanism to help fight depression, anxiety, stress, and anger.
What to Love About Volunteering
Volunteer programs offer an opportunity to bring people in to your social network you otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and learn from those who come from different walks of life. Everyone loves new friends!
Volunteering provides a unique opportunity: it connects people with very specific shared values. And the values may not be what you think. In addition to likely having shared concerns for the environment, animals, children, healthy living and eating, or whatever project you’re working on, volunteers are also people who also share things like a willingness to step outside their comfort zone, an openness to spending time on a community effort, a proclivity for engaging in team-oriented activities, and a compulsion to contribute to the well-being of others. Being a part of a team with a common goal will help you form bonds with strangers that can be life-changing.
The Value of “Giving Back” to Society
For me, the key to happiness is helping the lives of others and contributing to your community. As a community, we rise and fall together. Whether you are a high school student volunteering at a football game, a girl scout selling cookies, or senior volunteering at an animal shelter, when your efforts go towards making society better for all of us, we all feel better. It’s a win-win situation.
The Benefits of Volunteering
When you decide to get involved in volunteer work, you can expect to benefit by:
learning new and interesting skills
Every volunteer opportunity has its own set of tasks, and some of those might require you to learn new skills and challenge yourself. You might find that you are able to learn skills while volunteering that can help you in your daily life or even your career.
gaining knowledge and understanding of other cultures and people
Volunteering might take you to a new part of your community you have never been to or introduce you to people that you otherwise would not have had the chance to meet and that expands your understanding of others who are different from you.
enriching your life through taking an active role in the world you live in
If you want to make a lasting difference through your efforts, giving back by volunteering can be a powerful way to enrich the lives of others and your own.
building self-confidence and boosting your self-esteem
When you challenge yourself through volunteering, it can make you feel better emotionally and mentally. (https://createthegood.aarp.org/volunteer-ideas/health-benefits.html)
advancing your career by improving job prospects
Volunteer will offer you skills that can be used in your career and adding your volunteer experiences to your resume will show you are driven, determined and willing to work beyond just for a paying job.
developing a sense of purpose and motivation
We all sometimes need a little motivation as our daily routines can sometimes feel monotonize. Volunteer will get you trying new things with a cause behind it – which can give you a boost of motivation and sense of purpose in your life.
Getting Started on Your Volunteer Journey
So you have made up your mind to volunteer—what now? It is time to consider your options carefully so you can find an opportunity that will be realistic for you as well as fulfilling.
Find the Opportunity that is Right for You
First and foremost, consider how much time you can give. There is no competing in volunteering. If you can only give an hour a month—great. That is an additional hour a month your community will benefit from that it otherwise wouldn’t!. When volunteering as a part of a team, you should make sure you can commit the time you are promising. If you are volunteering hours with an organization to do web design or social media that doesn’t require working directly with others, make sure you are upfront about your skill levels, abilities, and availability. This will ensure don’t feel stretched too thin, which often results in burnout. We want to be in this for the long-term! You also want to avoid disappointing anyone who is joining and counting on you in your volunteer efforts.
Also, consider your physical capabilities. Do you have constraints that will make certain tasks difficult? Be honest with yourself about what you are comfortable with accomplishing. I have found that most organizations are very happy to accommodate volunteers who have special requests and needs if you are upfront with them about your limitations.
Next, think about where your interests lie. Do you like working with animals? Children? The refugee and migrant populations? Or maybe you have a passion for preserving our oceans. Deciding what kind of organization you would like to work with first will help you bring enthusiasm and excitement to your volunteer experience. It is no good for anyone if you volunteer to do something you flat out don’t like doing.
Volunteer Abroad or in Your Own Community
Are you interested in working outside of your home country? Do you have the time and finances to travel? Would you rather stay close to home where you might not have to spend money to volunteer? Consider again what might work best for you. Volunteering abroad tends to be expensive and time-consuming, which may or may not be something you are prepared to do. If your interests are working with orphans in Kenya, your local community might not have the opportunity for you. In that case, you will want to search outside of your hometown.
There are also amazing opportunities to combine your travel with volunteering. Companies like Discover Corps provide the opportunity to do purposeful travel, arranging for your trip to be structured around a service project. Kind traveler also allows you to take your impact beyond your hometown. Join the “give-back-packers” at Bamboo and take your impact across the world. Or, maybe you prefer saving sea turtles on a visit to Costa Rica?
How to Start Your Research
There are tens of thousands of organizations in the United States with volunteering opportunities ranging from health care and mental health, to sports, to politics, to childhood development. Here are some tips for getting started in finding the right volunteer opportunity for you:
- Search online for organizations in your interest areas and see if they have a volunteer page on their website. Make sure to check out the organization’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page and follow-up with any additional questions or concerns before signing up to volunteer.
- Visit the website VolunteerMatch or Idealist to see if posted volunteer opportunities might be right for you.
- Contact your local community centers, senior centers or libraries to find out if they are in need of volunteers.
Resources and Tips to Make Your Volunteering Experience Right for You
The reasons people volunteer vary, and your volunteer role will come with many responsibilities. Make sure you only volunteer in a capacity that you are comfortable with and that brings you joy. Ask as many questions as you like of an organization before you volunteer with them. Make sure that if you are considering volunteering abroad, that you work only with a reputable organization that you can verify necessary information about what to expect before you leave home.
Good luck on your search for the right volunteer experience for you and happy volunteering!
Director of Development, Children Incorporated
Shelley Callahan is a writer, traveler, communications and marketing specialist, non-profit consultant, and humanitarian aid program coordinator. Over the last fourteen years, Shelley has traveled around the world working to promote human welfare and provide aid to impoverished communities. She is currently the Director of Development with the non-profit organization Children Incorporated.
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